How Winston Became the Buccaneers' No. 1 Hope
The draft is over and after an event filled with storylines—trades, plummeting prospects and home fires included—the most significant was the very first one. Inside Tampa's decision-making process, plus draft awards, top picks and more
TAMPA, Fla. — Get off the plane here Friday afternoon, and go to the newsstand to see what the local papers say about what was, according to Bucs general manager Jason Licht, probably the most important draft pick in the history of the franchise. Pick up the Tampa Bay Times, and see a huge photo of Jameis Winston in a red Bucs cap surrounded by nine blaring all-caps words:
Bring the paper to One Buc Place, where the team has its offices and practice facility. Winston is resplendent in a black suit, black tie, white shirt, Bucs lapel pin and that same red cap. He is dressed like the billboard for the franchise, which now he is. In fact, on this afternoon, he has spent 45 minutes of his first day in the NFL doing a photo shoot for the team.
Take out the paper to show Winston what greets him on his first day as a professional, the ink barely dry on his four-year, $25.3-million rookie contract, which he signed 90 minutes earlier. Open it for him to see. He looks. He’s emotionless.
What’s your reaction, Jameis?
“Nothing,” Winston said. “Just a newspaper article. Headlines.”
Pause. No scowl, no shake of the head. No emotion whatsoever.
Winston said: “I had to grow the last couple of years, because of what I’ve done, because of what I have brought on myself. It’s all a part of growing up. I can’t change people’s opinions of me. I just gotta keep getting better every day, as a player and as a man.
“The only thing I can do … It’s not words. It’s actions. It’s by my actions.”
Winston knows. It’s a talk-is-cheap time of his life, and he knows he has to stack day after day after day of business-like days together, one after another.
He has to win too. The Bucs are 17-47 over the past four years, and have had 36 starting quarterbacks in their 39-year history. So there’s quite a mold to be broken on the field, without even considering all the other stuff.
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The draft in Chicago. The incessant booing of Roger Goodell. The Eagles not trading up for Chip Kelly’s man-crush at the top of the draft. Two top-10 picks in January turning into the 23rd and 60th picks because of off-field problems. A first-round tackle turning into an undrafted player because of a Louisiana murder. The NFL’s greatest current rivalry playing a tight end game on the first of May. The top-10 pick who represented himself. The draft pick whose house burned down—while he was watching the draft.
The draft began with boredom: fairly predictable first round, and only two trades. But we’ve known Winston was going to be the first pick for so long that we forgot what a seminal pick he was, and what a risky pick too, for such a downtrodden franchise that needed him so badly.
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Rick Stroud, who has covered the Bucs for 25 years, writes for the Tampa Bay Times and hosts a morning show on all-sports WDAE in Tampa. He says at least 50 percent of the callers to his show do not like Winston. “Most polarizing pick I’ve ever seen,” Stroud said. “There is some division along racial and gender lines.”
It’s hard to feel that inside the Bucs’ building, obviously, on the day Winston showed up as the first pick of the 2015 draft. On Friday, when Winston and his family stepped off a plane from their home in Alabama, the entire Bucs staff was in the lobby to give Winston an ovation. There might be some hate in the community and the wider world, but not here. Not today. Livelihoods are at stake, and the new quarterback can save jobs if he plays like he often did up the road at Florida State.
“This was a thorough investigation,” Bucs GM Jason Licht says. “We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”
You can trace the chase of Winston to Draft Day 2014, as crazy as it sounds. On the scouting trail, Licht became enamored with Winston, knowing he might leave FSU for the 2015 draft, after his second season as the starter. Licht’s brother-in-law asked him via a draft-day text last year whether he preferred Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater in the first round.
“Winston,” was Licht’s reply.
That’s why Licht sounded so Winston-focused over the past four months. Licht never lied about it, and he truly did like Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback who never was in much of a competition with Winston to go No. 1 in the draft. But it was clear Licht favored Winston. Now, early on Saturday morning in Licht’s office at One Buc Place, he explained how the franchise came to the decision.
“One of the pivotal moments came when Lovie and I went to the Rose Bowl,” says Licht, of the Jan. 1 game that pitted Oregon against FSU, Mariota against Winston, the two best quarterbacks facing off. “We got on the plane here in Tampa and Lovie pulled out his [Microsoft] Surface to watch tape, and I didn’t even want to see what he was looking at. I wanted Lovie to come to his own decision, not influenced in any way by me.”
The game: Oregon 59, Florida State 20. A walkoff win by Mariota. Now the two men who share the final say on Bucs’ draft choices and trades were alone, thinking. After the game, in the car back to the hotel, Licht was dying to know. He said to Smith: “All right, Lovie. Who’s your guy?”
“Jase, you know who it is,” Smith said.
Licht didn’t know exactly how Smith arrived at this conclusion, but he knew Smith meant Winston. And for the rest of the off-season prior to the draft, he wanted to be sure there were no shortcuts. When Smith and Licht went to the combine, they made sure to huddle around a TV for Winston’s pre-workout press conference, with about 450 media members on hand. When the press conference ended without incident, they sighed, happily.
The Bucs hired private investigators to check out Winston, who’d been accused of, but not charged with, sexual assault. Twice he was exonerated by prosecutors, and once by the university after a probe by a Florida state supreme court justice found insufficient evidence to charge Winston with sexual assault. This was a great test of the innocent-till-proven-guilty mantra in the American justice system, and the authorities could not prosecute Winston. So Winston passed the test. “He kept checking every box,” Licht said.
I had one question for Licht. I had this sinking feeling about the Bucs’ investigation into Winston off the field, that the franchise was finding out what it wanted to find out. The Bucs wanted Winston to win the on- and off-field competitions, and would never put him in position to look bad nationally. So why didn’t the Bucs, who talked to more than 75 people as part of the organization’s investigation into Winston’s character, talk to the woman who accused him of attacking her, Erica Kinsman? Did the Bucs just want the investigation to be finished, and to say what the team wanted it to say?
“That’s not the case,” Licht said adamantly. “We are not talking about this now… but we read the depositions. We knew what she was going to say. This was a thorough investigation. We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”
The football part of it, to Licht, was a bit easier. At one point Saturday, he pulled out a leather notebook with an NFL logo on the cover. “It’s called ‘The Book on Winston,’ ” Licht said Saturday morning, picking it up and flipping through it. “You know, with some pivotal moments, some pinnacle moments, in our process.”
Said Licht: “The more I watched of him, the more I thought, what worries you about him, you love. He’s so damn tough. So clutch. When things are going bad, he rises.”
There is no question that Licht will be judged by this pick. General managers who make the No. 1 pick and make the right one work for a long time. GMs who don’t, well, you can figure it out.
“When it was over, and we made the decision and we made the pick, I felt good,” said Licht. “Honestly, I slept better than any day since he declared for the draft. I have the utmost confidence in the guy. I believe him. What it comes down to is: I believe in him.”
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One more thing about the character issue, this from Lovie Smith, who understands the reality of the decision he and Licht have made. If they chose right, and manage and coach right, they’ll be the toast of Tampa. If not, two other men will be managing and coaching the franchise in 2017. They know that.
But Smith is adamant about one thing.
“I try as a rule to make my own decisions about a person,” he said Saturday, sitting on the edge of the couch in his office. “So we had some incidents in college about Jameis to consider. The crab legs, shooting BB guns, standing in the cafeteria and shouting things out. You know, you do stupid things sometimes when you’re 20, 21 years old. You get off track. You say later, ‘I wish I hadn’t done those things.’ But then there was a serious accusation we had to come to grips with. [The accusation that he sexually assaulted a Florida State student, Kinsman.] That was investigated three times. No charges were filed. I understand something happened. But when do you get to the point where you say, ‘We have to let the courts decide, and we abide by their ruling?’ They did not charge Jameis with anything. And at that point, I am going to make the judgment that I am not going to hold this incident against him.”
Smith got fired by the Bears after the 2012 season, and he was on the street in 2013. “I’m so fortunate I got a second chance to do what I love, because not everyone gets that chance,” he said. “I’m about second chances in life. You know when you do something at the age of 19 or 20, people tend to want to say about you that that’s who you are. And I don’t think what you do at 19 should dictate what you are, or who you are, for the rest of your life. Jameis deserves this chance. We went through a long process, and we like who Jameis Winston is, and I believe he deserves an opportunity to lead this team.”
Smith recently made a surreptitious trip to Alabama, to the area where Winston grew up, the Hueytown/Bessemer area south of Birmingham. He went to meet Winston’s parents. They talked heart-to-heart. They toured the area, and met Winston’s extended family and his coaches and his friends. Smith met an uncle of Winston’s who asked him: “You like the NBA?” Smith said he did.
“You remember the Michael Jordan draft?”
Smith did. That’s the year, 1984, that Portland took the ill-fated Sam Bowie second overall, and Chicago took Jordan third.
“Don’t pick the wrong guy,” the uncle said.
Don’t pick Marcus Mariota over Winston, he meant.
“That trip to see where Jameis grew up, to meet all the people close to him, was important,” Smith said. “There was life to him. There was a support system to him. I had a very good feeling about him. I thought, yes, this is who we want to be our leader.”
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One of the football things that convinced the Bucs to pick Winston happened in March. Winston was already the clear leader in the clubhouse, but the team summoned him to spend a day with the coaches at One Buc Place. Now came the test. They’d give this test to both Winston (first) and then Mariota (a week later). Winston reported to the facility one day in early March, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterback coach Mike Bajakian taught him what he’d learn on the first day of rookie minicamp. “Day 1 Install,” it was called. Fifteen plays, runs and passes, with a slew of formations, progressions in the quarterback’s read, snap counts, coverages, hot receivers if the defense blitzed, offensive-line protections. Bajakian took 90 minutes to explain the “install,” flying through it on purpose, to throw a lot at Winston to see what he’d remember—more conceptually than in memorization. Then, as part of the information-overload, the coaches took him to lunch in the Bucs cafeteria, introducing him to a slew of people, talking to him about his family, doing whatever to get his mind off the football and on to something else. They wanted to test his recall, and his football acumen.
Back in the quarterback meeting room after lunch, Bajakian put tape of the plays they’d be installing on the big screen. What’s your formation here, Jameis? The protection? Your route progression? Who’s your hot receiver? Play after play, for 45 minutes they went through it. Winston remembered it all. Koetter has been coaching college and pro football since 1985. He is not a gee-whiz coach. Licht was blown away by Koetter’s impression after that couple of hours with Winston. “I’m going to compare every guy I test like that the rest of my career to Jameis,” Koetter told Licht.
But there was one other thing that Koetter saw as a danger sign—and the Bucs realize is part of the education of a young quarterback. At Florida State, Winston threw 18 interceptions last season, and had at least seven more dropped or missed. Winston has bravado, which every team wants in its quarterback. But you can have too much of it, and Koetter will be sure now to train Winston on the fine line of confidence.
“I’m not afraid of making any throw,” Winston told Koetter that day in March.
“You need to be,” Koetter told Winston.
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Two final things.
One: I believe Winston wants to be good, and wants to do right. “So many great people here want to give me a chance. Mr. Alstott, Mr. Brooks. [Former fullback Mike Alstott and linebacker Derrick Brooks, local community pillars, have helped Winston on his trips to Tampa.] They are offering their help, and right now my hand is out. I want to find a way to be like them in this community one day.” It sounds good. Now Winston has to follow through.
Two: You may recall when I wrote about Winston—the Florida State baseball team’s closer last season—at the combine in my Feb. 23 column that I asked him whether he would ever want to play both sports as a professional. “I can’t speak on that,” he said. “It has always been my dream, but I’m just playing football right now.”
That section of the column alarmed Licht, and that Monday he texted Winston and then spoke with him about it. He told Winston that wasn’t something the Bucs would be likely to accept if he was their pick. Winston said he understood, but loved baseball so much that he was being honest about it with me.
Fast forward to last week. Licht and agents Greg Genske and Kenny Felder negotiated the Winston contract so he’d have the business of football out of the way and he could focus solely on football, starting with the Bucs’ minicamp that gets underway Thursday in Tampa. In the contract, a Bucs’ source said, is a clause prohibiting Winston from playing professional baseball during the life of his Tampa Bay deal.
Winston, in the Bucs’ locker room on his first day as a professional football player, saw the clock over the door to the room. It ticked off the days (103) and hours and minutes and seconds until the first preseason game—with the opener against Mariota’s Titans four weeks later. Is it enough time to get ready to play? Probably not, but Winston thought so.
“I am so ready to play,” he said. “So ready. I can’t wait.”
Shouldn’t be too tough. All he’s got is the weight of a franchise on his shoulders.
The coolest span of the draft: Picks 53 through 61.
Some inside football here. These are the type of stories I love the most after a draft, trying to recreate why what happened really happened, and how players ended up where they did.
Four really good stories happened between the 53rd pick in the draft, held by Cincinnati as day two of the draft began, and the 61st pick, held by Indianapolis and traded to Tampa Bay when the Colts were on the clock.
Pick 53, Cincinnati: Jake Fisher, tackle, Oregon. In the first round, the Bengals, at 21, liked Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and Fisher, but felt Ogbuehi, who may miss most of the 2015 season because of January ACL surgery, had a bigger upside. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander texted Fisher on Friday to tell him sorry, but in the Bengals’ eyes, Ogbuehi would have been a top-five player without being hurt, and Cincinnati couldn’t pass him up. “Thanks for being honest,” Fisher texted back. Then the second round started, and the Bucs took tackle Donovan Smith, and then pick after pick went by, and though so many teams needed tackles, other players—18 of them—went flying by. No tackles.
“Daily double!” someone in the Bengals’ draft room said out loud. “Two tackles!”
Coach Marvin Lewis loved Fisher. Owner Mike Brown lives by the draft board, and midway through the round, Fisher was the only player left with a first-round Bengal grade. The Bengals turned in the pick. Alexander, working his 22nd draft with the Bengals (the coaches in Cincinnati are more involved than with any other franchise), got the biggest surprise of his personnel evaluation career: He thought one or both of Ogbuehi and Fisher would be gone at pick No. 21, and he got one of them at 21, the other at 53. This could be a redshirt year for Ogbuehi, who won’t be fully healthy until at least November; he projects as the long-term left tackle, with 2016 free-agent Andrew Whitworth turning 34 in December. Fisher will learn tackle, guard and center and push to play somewhere this year. Long-term, he could push out former first-round pick Andre Smith at right tackle.
Alexander had lunch Saturday with Ogbuehi and Fisher, and told them he wanted them to be fast friends—they’d be the future cornerstones of protection for the Cincinnati line.
The Ravens heard the Steelers were locked on Williams. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t; you never know in the draft if you are being played or getting the real scoop.
Pick 55, Baltimore: Maxx Williams, tight end, Minnesota. It didn’t take long after the end of the first round Thursday, which came and went with the Ravens getting the deep speed threat (Breshad Perriman) that Joe Flacco needed with the loss of Torrey Smith. By Thursday night, the Ravens were laser-focused on solving the long-term tight end problem. They wanted Maxx Williams, the player most teams thought was the best of a weak tight-end crop.
Baltimore had the 26th pick of round two (58th overall). The Ravens didn’t think there was much chance Williams would be there. But the round was going well for Baltimore for the first 18 or 20 picks. Teams with significant tight-end needs—the Giants at 33, Raiders at 35, Falcons at 42, Browns at 43, Saints at 44, Bengals at 53—all passed. But then, maybe 45 minutes before they were scheduled to pick, the Ravens heard reliably (or so they thought) that the Steelers were locked on Williams. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t; you never know in the middle of the draft if you are being played or getting the real scoop. But Baltimore began to call teams ahead of Pittsburgh, picking 56th, to see if they would move. Arizona, at 55, was willing, figuring the guy they wanted here, defensive end Markus Golden of Missouri would likely make it to 58. For the cost of a pick exactly 100 picks later—No. 158 overall—Baltimore leapfrogged Pittsburgh. The Ravens picked Williams.
“So for a fifth-round pick, Ravens stole Maxx Williams from Steelers. Great move,” tweeted Ed Bouchette, long-time and plugged-in Steeler beat man.
Ironically, Williams is more a Heath Miller-type, a blocker-receiver in the mold of the veteran Steeler … which must gall the Steelers even more. And it probably didn’t bother Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who wasn’t asked back by the Steelers after the 2011 season, that it was a trade with Baltimore that messed up the Steelers’ plan to take Williams. The Steelers got their rookie tight end, Jesse James of Penn State, in the fifth round. It’ll be interesting to see over the next few years how much damage Williams does in this rivalry. The Steelers are the types to look back, but if Williams makes beautiful music with Flacco, he’ll add some spice to a rivalry that doesn’t need it.
Pick 60, Dallas: Randy Gregory, defensive end/outside linebacker, Nebraska. My first thought after this pick: Rod Marinelli’s going to have Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory in his defensive team meeting room. Hope he’s ready. The Cowboys honestly considered Gregory in the first round, too, before going for another need guy, cornerback Byron Jones of UConn. When it got close to pick 60, I’m told a serious conversation wasn’t needed; Gregory was such a strong candidate as a player that Dallas was willing to work with him on his marijuana history, and his history of depression and anxiety, according to SI.com's Don Banks. Other reports say Gregory was either bipolar or had some other personality disorder that made it difficult for him to focus on football, or anything, for long periods. Gregory, without question, was a top-10 value on talent alone. But he tumbled down so many draft boards because of his marijuana use and uncertainty over his illnesses. Now the 65-year-old Marinelli will ride herd on Hardy and Gregory, two players most teams in the league wouldn’t let in the front door of their buildings. Now whether the talent can stay on the field, and on the roster, is the big test for Marinelli and coach Jason Garrett.
And for the Jones family. On Sunday night, I spoke with Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, who was on the front line of the Gregory decision over the past month:
The MMQB: When did you first think you might be seriously interested in Gregory?
Jones: Our scouts come in every year and present to our coaches and staff, and that happened three-and-a-half, four weeks ago. Obviously, he tested positive at the combine; that came out. But on football alone, he was our top-rated pass-rusher, so we rolled up our sleeves and got after and tried to figure out what his situation was, exactly. So we asked him to come in, and every team in the NFL figured maybe he would drop in the draft, so every team, it seemed like, wanted him to come in. He was overwhelmed by it. But he did come in to see us. On that visit, I thought the wonderful thing about him was his transparency. He was an open book. He told us everything. He has an illness, and he knows he has to stay on top of it every day. He said, ‘Here is what I’m taking. Here is how I’m handling it.’ There is nothing he wouldn’t share. We realized how good a player he was, but we also realized there is risk here. There is risk for sure.
The MMQB: Did you consider him in the first round? I heard you did.
Jones: I think in this day and time, we want our first-round pick to be clean. That’s how we operated here.
The MMQB: You’re used to this, though. I think a lot of teams look at the Cowboys as the halfway house of the NFL, willing to take chances on guys other teams won’t take risks on.
Jones: A lot of times, we have successes with these players. A lot of times we don’t. Quite honestly, Dez Bryant had some things that scared us even more than Randy. But with the successes we have had—with Charles Haley, with Dez—the common thing is that when the guy gets between the lines, he’s competitive. Real competitive.
The MMQB: Rod Marinelli seems like a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. Was he on board with Gregory?
Jones: Absolutely. He is my way or the highway. He has said to us before about certain players, ‘I don’t think I can work with this guy.’ But if they love football, and if they fight their ass off in practice and in games, he can work with them. And he wants them.
The MMQB: Is there a limit, though? A limit to risks that you take with players like Hardy and Gregory?
Jones: Absolutely. You can’t just do it all the time. It’s got to be worth it. A player like Randy Gregory, he doesn’t become available down in the draft to us unless there’s unique circumstances. I think our team, and our coaching staff, and our organization, has grown to be able to accept it. We’ve got a culture with leaders everywhere, leaders who can absorb this and help these guys. But we understand the risk. We think it’s worth it.
Pick 61, Tampa Bay: Ali Marpet, guard, Hobart. Not a lot of pressure on Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht in this draft. There’s the Jameis Winston pick, and the dangers of that. There’s the disaster of 2014 free agency, which included the pricey acquisition at left tackle, Anthony Collins, failing miserably and getting cut after the season. There’s the overall poor play of the offensive line… and with Winston being a fairly immobile guy, the reconstruction of the line took on added significance over the weekend. Tackle Donovan Smith came early in the second round; he’ll get the first shot to win the left tackle job. And late in the second round, Licht traded up four spots from his perch atop the third round to acquire the 61st pick. What would he do with it?
Some history first. In the middle of the college season, the Bucs’ northeastern scout, Andre Ford, filed a report on a small college guard named Ali Marpet. (It's a tiny college, really; it’s the upstate New York hub of academia, Hobart and William Smith College, shortened to “Hobart” for football purposes.) At this point, Licht hadn’t heard of Marpet, who, in one stretch last year, played Endicott College, Curry College, the United States Merchant Marine Academy and Worcester Polytech. No wonder someone wouldn’t have heard of a player at the lowest level of Division III football. Yet Ford, normally a conservative grader, wrote this in his comments about Marpet: “He’s going to grow into a full-time starting player in the NFL.”
At the Senior Bowl, offensive line coach George Warhop told Licht his favorite two players were Smith and Marpet. At the combine, after Marpet ran a guard-best 4.98 40-yard dash, Licht texted one of the Bucs’ owners in the Glazer family—desperate for news on how the quarterbacks looked in Indianapolis—with news on the passers. And he added: “By the way, our favorite player here is Ali Marpet.”
Late in round two, as the Colts’ pick at 61 approached, Licht couldn’t bear the thought he might lose Marpet. “I knew there was a 95 percent chance he’d fall to us,” Licht said Saturday, “but I would have been sick if we lost him.” So he flipped fourth-rounders with Indy GM Ryan Grigson and moved up from 65 to 61.
On Sept. 13, 2014, Marpet played left tackle and blocked for quarterback Patrick Conlan against Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., with 1,725 watching. On Sept. 13, 2015, if all goes well, Marpet will line up at right guard and block for the first pick in the NFL draft, Jameis Winston, in his NFL debut against the Tennessee Titans, with 65,908 watching. That’s not too big an adjustment, is it?
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Draft weekend awards, observations and stuff I couldn’t fit anywhere else:
GMs of the Weekend
Trent Baalke, San Francisco. No one plays the futures trading game better than Baalke. He held the 15th pick of the first round, and the worst-kept secret in football leading up to the draft was that San Francisco was over-the-top smitten with Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead. Here was Armstead, available at 15. But here came San Diego, picking 17th, desperately wanting to get up to pick Melvin Gordon, fearful that Houston, at 16, might. Baalke got San Diego’s fourth-round pick this year and fifth-round pick in 2016, and still got Armstead picking at 17 … at a savings of about $725,000 in first-round-slotting-system contract dollars because Baalke got him two picks later. Baalke also traded a pick 10 slots from the bottom of the draft, number 246 overall, and flipped that to Dallas for a 2016 sixth-rounder. So the Niners enter the offseason with a league-high nine picks in the 2016 draft.
Mike Maccagnan, New York Jets. It’s likely that Leonard Williams was the number one pick on more draft boards in the league than any other individual player. The Jets surely believed he’d be gone when they picked at six, and of all the positions on the field, a penetrating defensive tackle with ability to flex out to end in some packages (or play 3-4 end, period) is what the Jets needed least. But Maccagnan did the right thing. Had there been a franchise player at some other position of great need, I wouldn’t have blamed Maccagnan for deviating from the best-player-available script. But there wasn’t one. So now the Jets have three first-round 3-4 ends 25 or younger with Pro Bowl potential: Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. And they have a premier run-stuffer for first down in Damon Harrison. Wilkerson’s contract mess could be an issue, but that’s a problem for another day. Maccagnan added a speed merchant used to playing big games, Ohio State’s Devin Smith, and an intriguing quarterback prospect, Bryce Petty, with a value pick at 103. A good debut for Maccagnan.
Martin Mayhew, Detroit. The Lions had a big guard need, and loved Duke’s Laken Tomlinson, and traded down five spots in the first round with Denver. Mayhew got Tomlinson. He got his presumptive starting center (to replace Dominic Raiola), Manny Ramirez (a hold-the-fort guy, but better than Travis Swanson). He got a fifth-round pick this year. He got a fifth-round pick next year. That is a value trade right there. I also like getting the hard-running Ameer Abdullah at 54 … assuming Abdullah can cure his fumbling problem.
Tom Telesco, San Diego. I like Melvin Gordon a lot, and the Denzel Perryman pick gives San Diego three solid inside linebackers; Perryman will be the best of the lot by midseason. But this nod to Telesco is for not trading Philip Rivers. Making that trade because Rivers is 33 and the Chargers aren’t sure if he’ll sign with the franchise long-term would been a dumb, panicked move, and I don’t care if this is Rivers’ last year, and he pulls a Carson Palmer and says he’ll retire rather than play for the Chargers (which I do not think he’ll do). You do not trade a very good quarterback with five years left in this modern NFL. You just don’t. And Telesco has a hard-enough shell to know that sometimes you just have to do what’s best for the franchise, even though you know there’s a chance in a year you could be in trouble. That’s life in the GM’s chair.
GM I Couldn’t Figure Out
Dave Gettleman, Carolina. None of these things can be judged for at least a couple of years, of course, so Gettleman, who has done a good job being patient in his Carolina rebuild, deserves time to see if he’s right and everyone else is wrong. But with a significant tackle need (Carolina is due to start the shaky Michael Oher on Cam Newton’s blind side, no pun intended), I thought Gettleman over-drafted Shaq Thompson at 25. Thompson certainly would have been there 10 or more picks later. And picking wide receiver/tight end combo guy Devin Funchess at 41 was a significant reach, according to the chorus of GMs I spoke with over the weekend. “Can be lazy and become disinterested in the game if he goes stretches without being utilized,” Ourlads Guide to the NFL Draft wrote of Funchess. “Lazy blocker … Inconsistent hands.” But Gettleman didn’t just reach for Funchess. He traded third- and sixth-round picks to move up to get him. There will be significant pressure on the 14th tackle picked in this draft, fourth-round pick Daryl Williams, to produce at tackle for Carolina. Everybody has opinions this time of year, but Gettleman made some unusual calls that also will be under the microscope for the Panthers this year.
Picks I Liked
9. New York Giants: Ereck Flowers, tackle, Miami. Plays with the meanest streak of any tackle in this class, which the Giants need up front. Cool aside: He and his father will do his rookie contract. They didn’t see a need for an agent in the slotting system of NFL rookie contracts.
20. Philadelphia: Nelson Agholor, wide receiver/returner, USC. Love the pick, love the player. The Eagles traded Jeremy Maclin (contract value: $11 million per year in Kansas City; he turns 27 this month) for Agholor (projected contract value: $2.2 million per year; he turns 22 this month). Agholor also adds returns value, which Maclin didn’t have.
40. Tennessee: Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver, Missouri/Oklahoma. No idea if he’ll boom or bust. But the 40th pick is a good place for a player with Randy Moss raw talent and a risk-reward pockmarked past.
70. Houston: Jaelen Strong, wide receiver, Arizona. Fifty picks earlier, the Eagles might have considered him had Agholor been off the board. Strong has a Jordan Matthews-type body at 6-3 and 217, and he’s a very good candidate to be the big and physical replacement for Andre Johnson. Great value here.
90. Baltimore: Carl Davis, defensive tackle, Iowa. The Ravens are a continuum. Lose Haloti Ngata, grab a sneaky-quick man-mountain who can clog the middle. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s the way of Ozzie Newsome.
137. Atlanta: Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle, Clemson. Our Robert Klemko is in Atlanta working on a Jarrett story for Tuesday, and it’s a good one. This poor man’s Aaron Donald plays with the same intensity. He’s not built to take on two linemen and clog holes like a Vince Wilfork, but he should be a good, penetrating situational guy for the Falcons.
170. Seattle: Tye Smith, cornerback, Towson. A 6-0, ultra-physical, attacking-style corner in the fifth round? Not the fastest guy? Hmmm. Late-pick DBs in the John Schneider Era … Kam Chancellor, fifth round. Richard Sherman, fifth round. Byron Maxwell, sixth round. Jeremy Lane, sixth round. Tharold Simon, fifth round. I mean, I’m just saying.
Idiot Mock Drafter of the Year
Me. When will I learn? I got worse as the month went on. In my mock draft from last Tuesday, I had four direct hits: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Trae Waynes, Arik Armstead. In my mock draft April 1, I had six direct hits: Winston, Mariota, Waynes, Dante Fowler, DeVante Parker, Kevin Johnson. I mean, who gets worse with four more weeks to research?
Quotes of the Week
“It wasn’t really planned. It was just something that happened.”
—Green Bay GM Ted Thompson, after UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley plummeted to the middle of the fifth round, and the Packers selected him with the 147th overall pick.
“He is non-tolerant, sort of an evil emperor and the fans don’t like that. The Ray Rice decision was one where I decided I didn’t like him.”
—Bears season-ticket holder Torrence Moore, at the draft Thursday night, to Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB, on why he lustily booed Roger Goodell when the commissioner appeared on-stage to announce the draft choices.
“He thought he would go in the first round. And he needs to come in here and prove to everybody that he should have.”
—Giants coach Tom Coughlin, on Alabama safety Landon Collins, the first pick of Friday’s second round and 33rd selection overall.
“Every time I look out there, I say, ‘Woof, we are loaded.’ ”
—Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, in the midst of Bills’ workouts last week.
Aaah, Rexie. He could coach the ’76 Bucs and think he’s winning a Super Bowl.
“That’s the plan.”
—Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt, on whether he intends to start Marcus Mariota in Week 1 of the 2015 season.
“I’m not flashy. I buy my earrings from Claire’s.”
—Chicago first-round receiver Kevin White.
So I went to Claire’s. Actually, to Claires.com, to see just how thrifty Kevin White is. Claire's Draft Factoid of the Week: You can buy a paid of round cubic zirconia stud earrings (“These dainty dazzlers are perfect for everyday sparkle,” Claire’s declares) on sale for $5.
“It doesn't bother me. It happens all the time. That's what makes sports great. You have nothing to talk about on sports radio, it’s ‘Hey, let's talk trades,’ and everybody comes up with a trade. It's great. I think it's fun. But if the guy getting talked about in the trade gets a little nervous, my point is, I've got to tell him just not to listen to that stuff. I mean, everybody can trade. Trade me. I don't care.”
—Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, on the spate of trade rumors around his team, as reports swirled that he desperately wanted to trade up to acquire Marcus Mariota with the first or second pick of the draft.
“We didn’t want him going to Cleveland. They don’t have a team, really, or a quarterback … We were happy with the Miami Dolphins … We love the weather.”
—Reneca Parker, the pro personnel director and mother in the DeVante Parker household, telling the Miami Herald she didn’t think the Browns were an organization or team fit for the talents of her son, the Louisville wideout drafted in the first round by the Dolphins, two slots after Cleveland passed on Parker.
Stat of the Week
In the embarrassment-of-riches NFL, the average signing bonus for an undrafted rookie free agent—the approximately 340 rookie players who have been signed this week in the wake of not being one of the 256 draftees—will be just shy of $8,000.
The rookie undrafted signing pool for bonus money is $86,957 per team. Divide that by approximately 11 signings per team, and there’s your $7,905 per man.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Todd Gurley was the top-rated player on the St. Louis draft board.
Marcus Mariota was the fourth-rated player on the Tampa Bay draft board. The top five:
1. Jameis Winston.
2. Leonard Williams.
3. Dante Fowler.
4. Marcus Mariota.
5. Todd Gurley.
The Atlanta Falcons in April arranged for a former star linebacker, Jessie Tuggle, to announce the team’s fifth-round pick, live from the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. All teams did their day-three picks remotely, to boost interest locally somewhere in the home market, and most got at least one former star to announce one or more of them.
Tuggle was handed the card to make the announcement and looked down at it.
Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle, Clemson.
Marcus Mariota does not have accounts on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
“Craziest 24 hours of my life,” Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander said of the span starting at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday. That’s when his daughter’s high school lacrosse team upset its arch rival. The Bengals picked Alexander’s top target in the draft, Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, at 10:25 p.m. The next day, his daughter was admitted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. And Friday evening, to his great shock, Alexander’s No. 2 priority in this draft, Oregon tackle Jake Fisher, was still there in round two, and the Bengals took him. “Buying a lottery ticket on the way home tonight,” said Alexander.
Last Tuesday, NFL Network keystones Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Kurt Warner, Michael Irvin, Melissa Stark and Marshall Faulk were invited to be part of the first-pitch ceremony and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” song during the seventh-inning stretch of Pirates-Cubs. All were happy to be involved… except Faulk, a St. Louisan. He refused to go. He refused to put on a Cubs cap, or Cubs jersey, or to be part of any Cubs-celebratory thing. It’s all about the Cards for Faulk. He couldn’t bring himself to wear any Cub stuff.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
1. The more big events in my life in Chicago, the better. Love that city. Love walking everywhere. Love the crowds on Michigan Avenue. My Chicago hotel Wednesday and Thursday nights, before traveling to Tampa on Friday, was 1.6 miles from the draft site on Michigan Avenue. I walked it three times in the two days I was in town and wouldn’t have minded walking it six times.
2. Regarding Auditorium Theatre and Grant Park: The theater is a classy, ancient job, full of history. The park, with all the team tables there and a lot of activities for people who couldn’t get into the theater (the 3.5 Thursday hours and five Friday hours of the draft itself is no big action thriller) did just what the NFL wanted, inventing an off-season NFL festival. As Rich Eisen of NFL Network pointed out, it’s hard to imagine another draft without something like an outdoor NFL-fest; when you get more than 200,000 customers fired up about your game 19 weeks before the first game of the season, what’s wrong with that? Rahm Emanuel was right: Chicago was a great site for the draft.
3. There is no easier airport for the in-and-out of a city than Tampa. I was at the Bucs’ practice facility and offices until 11:05 a.m. Saturday. Had a 12:10 Delta flight back to New York. Had to return a rental car. Thought it was 70-30 I’d make it.
I was at my gate at 11:27.
Eight minutes to the car-rental return. No line. Five minutes to the tram. Two minutes from tram to gate. Fourth in line at security. Five minutes through security. Two minutes to the gate.
Not saying I’ve never had a long security line at Tampa airport. But that’s the only X-factor. The airport is a few long spirals from One Buc Place, and from the football stadium. The tram system brings you to your gate in a flash. I’m always used to nightmare scenarios at airports, and really ought to plunk down what it costs for TSA Precheck, particularly to bypass the security lines in place like O’Hare and LaGuardia. But you don’t really need it in Tampa.
Tweets of the Week
Alright Mariota #8 is all yours...free of charge... IF you can beat me in arm wrestling competition.… https://t.co/4LruaxCRq3
— Ryan Succop (@ryansuccop) May 1, 2015
The Tennessee kicker and current owner of No. 8 on the Titans, with an offer to the top draft choice who wore No. 8 in his college career at Oregon.
— #SeahawksDraft (@Seahawks) May 1, 2015
That’s GM John Schneider. I’m using this because, well, I thought it was a cool photo.
@Jaboowins Congrats fam I'm happy for u. Let's make somethin happen!
— Mike Evans (@MikeEvans13_) May 1, 2015
The Tampa Bay wideout, welcoming Jameis Winston to his new football family.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 2, 2015
The CNN reporter and host, announcing the day of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight that Floyd Mayweather’s people had pulled her credential, and that of ESPN’s Michelle Beadle. Mayweather was grilled by both reporters about his conviction for domestic violence. A disgrace. It was only massive public and media condemnation of the decision that made the Mayweather camp—in control of credentials to the event—change their minds and offer to credential Nichols and Beadle. You cannot ban journalists because you do not like what they write or say. Well, I guess you can ban them, but if you do, you deserve the wrath of the consumer, and I hope consumers vote with their wallets. I will. I wasn’t going to pay the $99 to watch the fight anyway, but I made sure not to slip out to a sports bar to watch it Saturday night. Nichols chose not to attend the fight as a member of the media and issued this statement on Twitter: “I will also not let fear of retaliation prevent me from asking the tough questions the public deserves answers to in the future.” Good for her.
NFL should start measuring chips on shoulders at the combine, because every rookie apparently has one.
— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) May 2, 2015
Other things we should measure after listening to draft analysts for three days:
- How high a motor each draftee has.
- The size of the “edge” each draftee plays with.
- The Vengeance Factor, to gauge who will make teams that passed on a draftee pay the most.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think it was cool to see Nate Boyer, the 34-year-old Army Special Forces veteran of three tours in the Middle East, get signed as an undrafted free-agent long-snapper by the Seahawks on Saturday. That shouldn’t be confused with “has a great job at winning the long-snapping job with the Seahawks” because of the clear advantage that incumbent Clint Gresham has to win the job. Not only did Gresham just sign a three-year, $2.7-million deal with Seattle, with a $300,000 signing bonus, but he has some physical advantages. He’s six years younger, and 6-3 and 240. Boyer is 5-11 and 220. Most long-snappers are in the 240-to-255 range, because they’ve got to hold up against some big rushers. But to Boyer, the size of the roadblocks in his way aren’t particularly worrisome. “I knew wherever I was going to go I’d have to compete with someone really good,” he told me Saturday night, an hour after he got the call from coach Pete Carroll offering him the free-agent spot on the Seattle roster. “I don’t let that bother me. I have no idea what his contract means, or what anything means about earning a spot. All I can do is put in the work and make sure I show up every day intent on making that team. That’s the only chance I have. Then I’ll just let the chips fall and be happy with whatever happens. I can’t predict the future. I’d go crazy if I tried.” I don’t know Clint Gresham at all, and I’m sure to be Carroll’s long-snapper he’s got to be a competitive and cool-under-pressure guy. But he’d better not give Boyer much of an opening. Early in his trial as a 28-year-old walk-on at Texas who’d never played football, three long-snappers ahead of Boyer found out it’s not very smart to underestimate him. In his final three years at Texas, Boyer played 38 straight games as the snapper.
2. I think some housekeeping at The MMQB is in order this morning. Greg Bedard, who has been invaluable over the past two seasons for our startup pro football site, is going to cover the NFL for the mothership, Sports Illustrated, while continuing to do a few stories for The MMQB over the next football season. SI managing editor Chris Stone wanted a good, plugged-in nuts-and-bolts football man to help NFL coverage at the magazine and SI.com, and Greg decided to make the move while retaining the ability to do some of the things for our site that have been so hugely popular—such as the deep-dive scouting-report stories of players like Johnny Manziel and Michael Sam and Marcus Mariota. For The MMQB, Andy Benoit will take on a bigger role, writing a regular NFL column and continuing in the tradition he and Greg have made so popular with strong takes from game-tape examination. We’ll also have a bigger video presence on the site this year. But for today, I want to say how great it’s been to work daily with Greg, someone I’ve admired in the business for so long—and how I will not let his work disappear from our site altogether. His insightful, edgy, challenge-the-status-quo contribution to The MMQB has been a huge reason that we’ve been able to make the jump from iffy microsite startup to a major factor in the football media business in two years. This a great opportunity for him, to be a big voice for the magazine, and I know he’ll be great there. All the best to a good man and a cornerstone for The MMQB.
3. I think there haven’t been many stories like the La’el Collins story since I’ve covered the NFL, and we need to let the legal system take its course. But if I were him, and if I were exonerated by police in the case, I would go play football somewhere this year.
4. I think I really like the new 49er uniforms. I like the addition of the black.
5. I think the draft should be in Los Angeles in 2016. But unequivocally, I think it should return to Chicago within the next couple years. I ran into a Vikings fan outside the Auditorium Theatre on Thursday afternoon and said, “You came a long way, huh?” He said, “Six-and-a-half hours. No big deal. That’s what we do in this part of the country—we drive. I don’t mind.” Sometimes, I think how great is to be centrally located to so many teams in New York. I’m within a six-hour drive of teams in Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Giants, Jets and New England. But if you’re in Chicago, you’re within six hours of Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Green Bay and Minneapolis (pushing it; that’s maybe six-and-a-half). Add a little, and you can make the drive from Buffalo or Kansas City in less than eight hours. And I saw jerseys of all colors in Chicago.
6. I think the biggest oddity of the post-draft roster shakeup is this: Of San Francisco’s 81 players as of Saturday night, eight were tight ends.
7. I think it would be impossible for any football player since Joe Namath to be having more fun after a Super Bowl than Rob Gronkowski is.
8. I think the NFL allowing the Patriots’ deflated football saga—the Ted Wells investigative team began its work 101 days ago—to stretch past the draft makes this absurdity possible: If New England is punished, say by the loss of a draft choice, something that happened in the 2014 season will be punished in the 2016 season. That’s just wrong. Roger Goodell cannot simply say to Ted Wells or to any investigator: “Get back to me when you get back to me.” He has to either put a time limit on the investigation, or at the bare minimum, say, “You’ve got to have this done some time before the draft, so if there are sanctions to be assessed, we can assess them at the right time, not a year and a half later.”
9. I think the problem with the 24/7 media culture surrounding pro football was on display with the crab legs picture that Jameis Winston posted on Instagram. I get the bad imagery. I don’t get the this-shows-immaturity thing.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. So Alex Rodriguez tied for number four on the all-time home run list. So? Let me know when he’s going for number one, and then I’ll pay attention. I mean, in what other walk of life does time stop when you become the fourth-best at something, particularly with Rodiguez’s asterisks?
b. Kevin Harlan in last two minutes of Clippers-Spurs: “I DO NOT WANT THIS SERIES TO END!”
c. Me either, and I’m not even a basketball fan.
d. B.B. King is in hospice care. Comfort to him. Our culture has been so enriched because of him.
e. Go you Astros! Now that’s a great story, building a team the right way, with patience and pitching and prospects. And with the Steph Curry of baseball, Jose Altuve. (Well, there’s no Steph Curry match in sports today, but Altuve would be the only baseball player who is close.)
f. I knew the Yankees would be better than people thought. Bullpen’s good, and the starters will be good enough, and Brett Gardner’s good.
g. Sure am pleased I got Nelson Cruz in the 11th round of my fantasy draft. He’s only on pace for 87 home runs.
h. Trade Strasburg. Maybe I should have traded Kluber. Pitching is maddening.
i. Always good to steal a game at Wrigley, as I did Wednesday night. Thanks to my SI Chicago ad sales team for a fun evening, even in the 46-degree chill. Gerrit Cole’s something to see. And it was cool to see Andrew McCutchen’s 1,000th career hit, a screaming triple to the center field warning track.
j. Didn’t watch the fight. Glad I didn’t. Nichols and Beadle on the brain.
The Adieu Haiku
Marpet, guard. Hobart.
In the second round. Hobart.
You kidding? Hobart?