A Free Agency Free-For-All
After four frenzied days of signings, trades and rumors, here’s a look at the most impactful moves, including the Patriots’ deals, the innovative Houston-Cleveland swap, the $5 million fullback and much more
The MMQB's Peter King discusses where Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo might be playing to start the 2017 season.
Time for a deep breath. Out of the blocks, it hasn’t been quite a Jack Buck/Kirk Gibson start to free agency (“I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW!”), but we’ve seen lots of eye-openers. Such as these niblets:
• The jettisoning of a headache. Cleveland paying $16 million for a second-round pick, Houston saving $10 million in cap room, and a trade that’s great for everyone except the tradee-in-limbo: Brock Osweiler.
• The rich got richer. New England picking some NFL carcasses and finding three intriguing young players (average age: 25 years, 3 months), including a potential number one wideout. And I doubt the Patriots are done.
• A YUGE-check. The 49ers making a player who has touched the ball 104 times in four NFL seasons the highest-paid fullback in NFL history … by a lot.
• Shopping for the not-so-gently used. Seattle interviewing all the 2013 Pro Bowl running backs to see which one will be its 2017 workhorse. (Well, not every one. But 2013 honorees Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles are all slated to be on Alaska Airlines flights to SeaTac soon.)
• Everybody got paid, except Terrelle Pryor. He should still be a Brown, but this was a bad misjudgment of the market by Pryor.
• Testing Shad Khan’s patience. The Jags committing $541 million to free agents in 25 months. This is the third straight year we’ll think, This is the year they turn the corner. But we still have no idea if they’ll be any good.
• Tony Romo in limbo. The Cowboys trying to trade Romo instead of releasing him. Good concept. Not happening. Houston (more desperate than Denver, and a 42-minute plane trip from Dallas, with Romo and wife expecting their third child) is still the favorite to land Romo.
• Washington weirdness. Washington lost both starting wide receivers, smeared the GM as they fired him, and the franchise quarterback wants to be traded. Nice weekend, Dan Snyder.
• Jay Cutler evidently has poison sumac. I get that being in the same room with him is like drinking pickle juice, but go figure no one wanting him for nothing. He’s become Jeff George.
• Cleveland owns the draft, again (for what that’s worth). Picks in the top 65: Cleveland 5, New England 0. For now. I expect that tally to change.
• The signings I liked, and the signings I didn’t like. Mike Glennon’s on there. You might be surprised on which side.
* * *
YOU WRITE TOO MUCH ABOUT THE PATRIOTS
So America says, relentlessly. Never did I think after the first weekend of free agency that I’d lead with New England. But they had an innovative weekend, even by their standards. We learned something about them. For the rest of the NFL entering Thursday, the player market consisted of unrestricted free agency. For the Patriots, the player market consisted of 1,643 players—53 each from the other 31 teams. It’s as if coach/architect Bill Belichick says to New England personnel czar Nick Caserio: “Find me players we have graded high around the league. And tell me which ones are pissed off, which ones had crummy seasons last year and which ones are on teams in transition. And let’s make low-ball offers for as many as we can.”
Three of those worked over the long weekend—and that’s before New England solves the Malcolm Butler riddle. The Patriots couldn’t trade Butler to the Saints because Butler isn’t signed; he has to sign the Patriots’ first-round-tender offer of one year and $3.91 million before New England can trade him. Since the Patriots signed ex-Bill Stephon Gilmore as a number one corner, the Patriots could sign and trade Butler, which I still think is the most likely scenario. If that happens, I believe the Pats wouldn’t be as interested in getting a first-round pick in return as in getting, say, second- and third-round picks. So instead of dealing with the corner-needy Saints for a first-rounder, I bet New England asks for picks 42 and 76 in return, since this is a rich defensive draft and the Pats have zero picks in the top 70. But I digress there. Back to the New England strategy entering Thursday’s free agency kickoff.
• Finding a pissed off player. Brandin Cooks, 23, wide receiver, New Orleans. Early in the season, Cooks, a deep threat on the scale of Cliff Branch, went through lightly used games against Atlanta and San Diego (five catches, 44 yards, no touchdowns) and got irritated about it, watching rookie Michael Thomas becoming the favorite of Drew Brees. That in turn rankled Sean Payton, who wanted Cooks to trust the process. But Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, desperate to fix a defense that stinks every year, were open to moving Cooks. The Patriots and Saints—according to Dianna Russini of ESPN—were discussing a Cooks-for-Butler deal, but when that couldn’t happen, the Patriots dealt first- and third-rounders for Cooks and a fourth. New England controls Cooks for the next two seasons, if the Patriots choose to keep him after this year, for about $10.5 million. Immediately he’ll become the most talented Patriots wideout since Randy Moss (and Cooks may prove to be better). One other plus: When he and Rob Gronkowski are on the field together, a defense may have to use both safeties as downfield cover guys over the top of each. That could be a huge advantage to New England’s intermediate passing game, not to mention the screen game.
• Finding a player from a team in transition. Dwayne Allen, 27, tight end, Indianapolis. Allen was signed by former GM Ryan Grigson last off-season, and when Grigson got fired, in came GM Chris Ballard. The Patriots, with Martellus Bennett knowing he could get more than New England wanted to pay for a number two tight end who might have to be more, knew they wanted a starter-type who could both block and catch. The Patriots did just what they did with Bennett a year ago: deal a fourth-round pick for the player and a sixth-round pick. Bennett’s production was definitely worth sliding down 74 picks, from the fourth to sixth round. If Allen’s as good in 2017 as Bennett was in 2016, sliding down 63 picks this year (from 137 to 200) will be a similar bargain. Big “if,” though.
• Finding a good player coming off a down year. Kony Ealy, 25, defensive end, Carolina. Remember Ealy in the Super Bowl loss to Denver 13 months ago? Three sacks and a forced fumble for the second-year edge rusher. Ealy was mediocre last year—five sacks, 26 other significant pressures playing 65 percent of the snaps for Carolina—and the Panthers knew they might let him walk in free agency in 2018. So essentially Ealy, with an inch and 10 pounds on Chris Long, replaces the departed Long. And if Ealy can’t get to the quarterback, the Patriots let him go at a cost of eight spots in the draft; they dealt the 64th overall pick to Carolina and got the 72nd pick in return. Pretty low-cost gambit.
Total 2017 cost for Cooks, Allen and Ealy: $7.47 million. Collectively, that’s 4.5 percent of the Patriots’ cap. Not bad for three guys who figure to be top-30 players on the best team in the league. Next for the Patriots, I’d think, would be recouping those two picks in the top 70 they lost in these deals. And that’s where Butler comes in.
* * *
THE BEST DEALS ARE MADE AT THE OCEANAIRE
There’s a reason serious NFL people at the combine in Indianapolis frequent a more dignified, quieter spot like downtown fish bistro The Oceanaire Seafood Room. It’s not a place coaches and scouts go to tell stories and have three beers at night. Fitting, then, that two general managers who are close and who this year need each other met there on their first night at the combine two weeks ago. Houston GM Rick Smith and Cleveland GM Sashi Brown got serious about the Brock Osweiler trade there.
I talked with several people with knowledge of how the most unusual trade I can recall went down, and no one will tell me who came up with the idea. I might say Bill Barnwell of ESPN, who had the idea first (you’ll read about that lower in the column), but both sides say that’s not the case. But I can’t tell you who had the bright idea that culminated in Cleveland trading a fourth-round pick to Houston for Osweiler, and second- and sixth-round picks. The Browns will pay Osweiler $16 million this year. Houston would have had a $19 milion cap number on Osweiler if he stayed a Texan in 2017. But by trading him, that 2017 cap number is reduced to $9 million (the remainder of his pro-rated 2016 signing bonus), and that’s the last vestige of the horrible Osweiler contract on the Houston salary cap.
This much we know: Houston was not bringing back Osweiler in 2017. Mike Florio reported Sunday on Pro Football Talk that Osweiler and coach Bill O’Brien had a confrontation in the locker room at halftime of the final game of the regular season. So the Texans were motivated to find a landing spot for him, somewhere. For the Browns, who cherish high draft choices the way Jennifer Lopez cherishes prime placement on Page Six, the second-round pick in return allows them to own two straight drafts, and they’re on a crusade to collect top prospects to rebuild a bad team.
“Sashi and I started talking, and he’s an intelligent guy,” Smith said Saturday evening. “He and I have been friends for years. We got to thinking about an out-of-the-box concept. It took some creativity and some courage. We got together a couple times at the combine, then we talked more on the phone after that. You try to find equitable value.”
The deal had to be approved by the league, which doesn’t allow teams to trade players for money. On its face, that’s what this is, seeing that the Texans traded a player and a higher pick for a lower pick, in essence. But the NFL allowed it because it involves a player and picks. And there’s no way this trade should be outlawed, or even questioned. It’s a good deal for both teams, clearly.
“Competitive balance is incredibly important to me,” said Smith. “I have spent a number of years on the Competition Committee, and following our rules is very, very important. I think when you look at this deal, elements of this deal, it is value for value. We trade a player, and we traded draft picks, and we get a draft pick. By no stretch of the imagination was this not above-board.”
It’s good for the Texans because it allows them to use some of the $10 million in cap savings either on acquiring Dallas quarterback Tony Romo or on the megadeals they’d like to do in the next year or so with wideout DeAndre Hopkins and pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
It’s good for Cleveland, and not just because of the second-round pick. This might be the only time a team actually doesn’t mind spending $16 million, because the Browns, who started the free agent period with $102 million to spend, have so many low-cost players that the only way to spend near the cap limit of $167 million would be to sign a bunch of players they really don’t want to sign. That’s because Cleveland, with 14 draft choices last year and a league-high 22 over the next two years, will have a slew of low-money, team-friendly contracts. In the debate over whether a second-round pick is worth $16 million, that point has been forgotten. Cleveland is at a point where eating up cap space in this unorthodox way is very much worth it.
“It’s a precedent-setter,” Smith said. “It’s unique. I don’t know if it means trades are going to be different going forward. It took some imagination, some cooperation. But it fit the concept of a trade that helped both teams.”
* * *
EYE-OPENER OF THE WEEKEND
The 49ers signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk to a four-year, $21 million contract. At an average value of $5.25 million a year, that’s more than double the next-highest fullback deal (Ryan Hewitt, Cincinnati, $2.5 million a year).
Juszczyk (pronounced “YOOZ-check”) carried the ball seven times in his four years as a Raven, for a grand total of 25 yards. But this play—his last rush for Baltimore, part battering ram, part athlete—gives you part of the idea why he got the big dough:
“Talking to teams, that play was pretty big, I think,” said his agent, Joe Linta.
“I think that play’s probably a big reason for the money I got,” Juszczyk said. “I think it showed my power, and a little bit of me as an athlete.”
Amazing story, really. Juszczyk was an unknown from Harvard in January 2013 when he got his big break: Senior Bowl director Phil Savage, widely respected in NFL circles, invited him to the late January showcase. Juszczyk performed well, and the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round that year. In his four seasons he caught 97 balls out of the backfield in limited duty, and his ability to run routes and block and play well on special teams caught the eyes of several teams in free agency. With the market flush with cash—the 32 NFL teams were an estimated $1.1 billion under the cap entering free agency—young players with a skill set were going to make money. Linta aimed high. He said one team would have paid Juszczyk more than the Niners did (the Jags, Eagles, Bills and Jets also were in competition), but two things swayed the 25-year-old former college tight end: He loved what he heard about San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense and the multiple ways he might be used, and he and his girlfriend loved the thought of living and working in California.
But the money … Even to player (“surreal,” Juszczyk said) and agent, it was a little bit of a wow. “When I told the teams where I thought the market on Kyle was,” Linta said, “some of them threw up in their mouths a little bit. When we got the deal, the funniest line from one of the teams was, ‘Joe, you got a YUGE-check for that kid.’” Though the cap has risen 39 percent in the past six years—from $120M in 2011 to $167M in 2017—the fact that the Niners paid Juszczyk double what a traditional fullback makes was pretty eye-popping.
San Francisco GM John Lynch said Juszczyk should rightfully be called an “OW”—offensive weapon—now rather than a fullback. It’s likely Shanahan will use him on a special team or two, as a blocking back, as a wheel-route specialist out of the backfield, as a second tight end/H-back in some formations, and possibly split out very occasionally. Instead of carrying the ball seven times in four years, he might have 70 rushes and 70 catches in an average Niners season. “My role will be very diverse,” he said. “It will involve blocking and touching the ball, for sure. But one of things they emphasized was that what I do might not always be seen by the fans, but there are other ways you can contribute to winning, like pass-protection.”
Teams don’t pay pass-protecting backs $5 million a year. So the bull’s-eye will be on Shanahan to build a major role in the offense, and for Juszczyk to produce.
* * *
THE REST OF THE STORY
A few paragraphs, a few takes …
• I understand why Cleveland let Terrelle Pryor walk, but that doesn’t make it right. The Browns made a fairly good-faith offer to their best free agent—veteran Cleveland-area columnist Terry Pluto said it was four years and $32 million, and I hear it might have been a little more—but lost him. Washington signed Pryor for one year and $6 million, with $2 million in achievable incentives. Everyone assumes he’ll shine in Washington catching balls from Kirk Cousins, but remember, that team has Jamison Crowder (2016: 67 catches), Jordan Reed (66) and Vernon Davis (44) returning, along with the injured 2016 first-rounder, Josh Doctson, coming back. I get that Pryor’s feelings were bruised that Cleveland, with all that cap room, didn’t break the bank for him, but if he was a guaranteed number one receiver, he would have had a better market than he did. Pryor and his agents overplayed their hand.
This is the third time in two years that a homegrown young player has left instead of staying to be part of the Cleveland revival. In 2016, tackle Mitchell Schwartz defected to Kansas City, and then the Browns waived wideout Taylor Gabriel, who ended up scoring seven touchdowns for the NFC champion Falcons. (I didn’t include center Alex Mack, because he was 30 when he bolted for Atlanta in free agency.) I am reminded of the words of Bill Parcells when he’d hear all the reasons—injuries, short week, etc.—why a team lost, and he’d say: “Don’t tell me how tough labor was. Just tell me if you delivered the baby.” Yes, the Browns can say they made a fair offer, but another hard-working good young player they developed is out the door. And the occasionally troubled Kenny Britt, who has never justified his 2009 first-round status, comes to Cleveland to replace Pryor. I would not call that a fair trade. It’s great the Browns have all these picks. Now they’ve got to develop and keep them.
• Washington is roiled. It’s damaging and flat wrong that the organization is so leaky that someone tells the Washington Post that GM Scot McCloughan, fired last week, was drunk in the locker room. Good for the Post, but that cannot happen. Somehow, the team has to build a bridge with quarterback Kirk Cousins so he actually wants to play there in 2017. And if Washington decides to deal Cousins, it has to be for a minimum of two number one picks. (Personally, I’d try to get San Francisco’s top picks in 2018 and 2019, plus Brian Hoyer.) But the McCloughan story tarnishes what has been a contending, bright-future team for the past two years. Our Albert Breer will have more on the fiasco later this week.
• The fate of Romo. I’ve talked to people in Houston and Denver, and who knows what happens if Jerry Jones holds Romo hostage for the next month or so. But as of now, there is a line in the sand in both franchises: The Broncos and Texans will not trade anything for him. It’s still more likely that needy Houston makes a move on Romo. Denver GM John Elway is doing his best to make everyone think he’s got little or no interest, but I want to see what Elway does (and it may be nothing) if/when Romo is on the street.
• I love Seattle interviewing all these old running backs. Well, Latavius Murray isn’t old. But Charles (30), Peterson (32 next week) and Lacy (27 in June, and a reputation for being out of shape) have either lots of miles or lots of questions on their records. Still, I’d sign one and team him in a job-share with someone from this bevy of top backs in the draft this year. The fact that there’s a bunch of older backs on the street with something to prove is a boon for Seattle GM John Schneider.
• Signings I like ... I actually think the Bears did a good deal—relatively—with Mike Glennon, now that the numbers are out. It’s $16 million guaranteed in year one, and then only $2.5 million guaranteed after that in a three-year deal. Glennon has 2017 to prove he’s a good starter, or the Bears will go QB-prospecting again in 2018. And it’s no lock they won’t take a passer high in this draft either. … Hmmm: $10.8 million a year for Baltimore to re-sign run-stuffer Brandon Williams is a couple million too much, but in a running division, the Ravens had to spend it. … A.J. Bouye at $13.5 million a year will be one of the bargains of this free agency season. Feisty and fast, Bouye and Jalen Ramsey (25 and 22, respectively) give Jacksonville the best young corner tandem in football. … Kevin Zeitler is the highest-paid guard in history ($12 million per), but at 27, it was smart money spent by Cleveland. … Except for the nightmare playoff game in Houston, Brian Hoyer’s been a solid backup type who can play a season. Two years and $12 million for him was the right deal for the Niners. … Good for the Lions getting help where it’s needed, up front, with tackle Ricky Wagner and guard T.J. Lang solid vet additions.
• Signings I didn’t like ... Two left-tackle signings have been universally panned, and I join the line. Seattle, desperate at left tackle, let Russell Okung walk after 2015. Denver, desperate at left tackle, let Okung walk after 2016. Even though the deal “only” guarantees Okung $26 million over the next two years, it’s still too much for the Chargers to pay a marginal, down-sliding player … Playing for Minnesota, Matt Kalil was Pro Football Focus’s 79th-rated tackle in 2014 and 42nd-rated tackle in 2015, and he was hurt last year. Carolina gave him $55 million over five years. Makes sense? … “Players don’t play better because you pay them more money,” the late Giants GM, George Young, used to say. The Jets gave OT Kelvin Beachum $8 million a year. I don’t see it … I think the Patriots paid a good player (Stephon Gilmore) with occasional injuries too much money ($40 million guaranteed). He’d better be a top-10 corner, and he hasn’t shown it yet. Ronald Darby, his former Bills teammate, has been better of late.
* * *
DISTURBING STORY OF NFL AND PAINKILLERS
On Thursday, the Washington Post published a piece about the more than 1,800 former NFL players suing the league in northern California, claiming long-term health problems from teams’ improper issuance and overuse of painkilling drugs. The paper said it was able to view a 127-page document of discovery in the case, with names redacted, that divulged information about the painkillers. And though some of the information was more than a decade old, some is remarkably recent and leads to significant questions about whether the NFL is doing enough to limit the use of powerful painkillers like Toradol by players.
Rick Maese, the reporter on the story, said the 127-page discovery documents included a 2014 survey of 27 NFL teams on the use of Toradol, which many players take to numb existing pain so that they’ll be able to play a game; five teams apparently did not respond to the survey request. The 27 teams, according to the survey, reported than an average of 26.7 players per team—half of the active 53-man roster—took at least one Toradol injection on a game day that season. Experts say continued use of Toradol can be hazardous to a players’ long-term health. To know that half the players in the league used it as recently as three seasons ago (and it would be naïve to think that many of those players used it only once in the season) is alarming. Maese reported that the former Rams team physician and former head of the NFL Physicians Society, Matt Matava, wrote after that survey was compiled: “Continued use of Toradol in the present climate is not rational.”
Given the dangers of Toradol to players’ long-term health, it’s incumbent on the league—which said in a statement that NFL teams are in compliance with the federal Controlled Substances Act and the allegations in the suit are without merit—to ensure that teams are not overprescribing Toradol now. It’s important that stories like this be written, and the pain-management system is examined, so that a light shines on painkillers and players are more aware of the risks.
“You don’t change the culture and practices of pain management overnight,” Maese said Saturday. “The pain that’s inherent in the sport, and how the NFL manages it, is not going away. It’s the system of pain management that we should be focused on.”
Maese will be a guest on “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King” this week. He’ll discuss his story, and what the NFL can do as safer options (if there any) for pain management.
* * *
Quotes of the Week
“I don’t necessarily believe in mermaids, but I believe in the theory that there could be mermaids. The world is 80 percent water or something ridiculous like that. We only discovered just a small part of that. Every single day we pull out different species out of the ocean and we find different forms of life in the ocean. So my whole thing is, who is to say there can’t be an Ariel floating down in the water somewhere?”
—New Miami defensive lineman William Hayes, the former Ram, in an introductory conference call with South Florida media. He also opined on dinosaurs, and his skepticism that Neil Armstrong actually walked on the moon.
“We’re really excited to acquire a second-round draft choice in this trade.”
—Cleveland vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, with the first quote in the press release noting his reaction to the deal that sent Brock Osweiler and two draft choices from Houston to Cleveland for a fourth-round pick.
The name (“Brock”) was the 55th word in a 59-word paragraph, five words from the end of the Sashi Brown quote.
“Just being completely honest: We set out early on and we said that this guy, he’s worth it to us. We’re going to make him the highest paid fullback in football. And what I’ve learned very quickly, the price goes up in free agency when there’s numerous suitors. There were numerous suitors for him.”
—49ers GM John Lynch, who made Kyle Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in NFL history with a four-year, $21 million contract on Thursday.
“You ready to come home?”
—Arizona GM Steve Keim, to third-time Cardinal Karlos Dansby, when he reached him two minutes into the free agency season Thursday afternoon.
“These days, I do things completely different. I go to meetings. I meditate. I pray. I see a therapist every other week. I’m coming up on five years since I went to prison, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just about today. Thursdays are my favorite days. I get up at 6, I’m in the gym at 7, and I’m in the office from about 9 until 1 p.m. Then, I’m back to the gym for a program that works with former combat vets. I’m home around 5 p.m. with my fiancée and our little dog. You know, that’s a boring life. And boring is not a bad word anymore.”
—Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, in a compelling piece by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, in a story told smartly.
* * *
Stat of the Week
• Unrestricted free agents signed by Jacksonville since March 2015: 19.
• Total contract dollars committed to those free agents: $541.2 million.
• Actual dollars spent so far on 2015 and ’16 free agents: $128.6 million.
• Jacksonville’s record since March 2015: 8-24.
• Of the 19 free agents signed, number departed: 8. (Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick, Davon House, Sergio Brown, Stefan Wisniewski from 2015; Prince Amukamara, Kevin Beachum, Mackenzy Bernadeau from 2016.)
I will hand it to GM Dave Caldwell, trying to get off the free agency schneid in 2017: Calais Campbell is one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen in football; Barry Church is an underrated safety with good range and good hitting ability; and A.J. Bouye was the best cornerback on the market, and he’s just 25 years old. They’d better produce. Jacksonville has gotten nowhere near its money’s worth on the $128.6 million Caldwell has spent so far.
* * *
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Take a bow, Rod Graves. You remember Graves, the former GM of the Arizona Cardinals now working in the NFL office in football administration. In 2004, running the Cardinals draft, this is what Graves did at the top:
|Round||Overall||Player/Pos./School||NFL Yrs.||Gms.||2017 Team|
|1||3||Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt||13||211||Cards|
|2||33||Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn||13||202||Cards|
Dansby signed as a free agent with Arizona on Friday. The 2017 season will be his third tour of duty with the franchise.
“Me and Larry,” said Dansby, “we’re the last two of the Mohicans.”
There is an asterisk here in this deep draft for the Cardinals: Arizona’s third-round pick was defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. All he did for Arizona was play 164 games in 10 seasons—including Super Bowl 43, where he sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times in a 27-23 Cardinals loss. Man, what a draft for the Cardinals.
Among the top 80 draft choices in 2004, three are under contract with the team that originally picked them: Fitzgerald, Dansby and Roethlisberger.
(Eli Manning and Philip Rivers do not count. Manning was drafted first by San Diego and traded to New York for Rivers, whom the Giants drafted fourth overall.)
* * *
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Sad to learn of the death of Joseph Rogers, 97, a founder of the Waffle House restaurant chain. There are 1,900 Waffle Houses in the United States, most of them in the Southeast, and I will bypass Ruth’s Chris for La Maison du Waffel, which is what I mostly call my favorite southern road eatery. (Three cheese eggs, scrambled … raisin toast … hashbrowns, smothered … coffee.) Eight times a year, I’d estimate, I eat at Waffle House.
I once took my 14-and-under Montclair (N.J.) Stars travel softball team to Richmond, Va., for a summer tournament. None of the girls had been to a Waffle House. So on the first full day there, I arranged a field trip to a Waffle House in Richmond. The girls were hooked. We got our clocks cleaned by a bunch of these teams that played 90 or 100 games a year (we played maybe 35), and on the day we left to drive home, I remember making an offhand comment to the team that I hoped they had a good time and learned a few things about the game. I decided to ask each girl their favorite part of the trip.
First voice: “Waffle House!”
Mr. Rogers, we went there three times in three full days.
* * *
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and new Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye.
• Harbaugh on vacationing with brother Jim’s family: “No one is more competitive than him. He has a bunch of kids now, young kids. Just had a baby, John Paul. … Last Memorial Day we did vacation together. My wife and I have a cottage up north in Michigan on Lake Huron. We get Jim to drive up with the kids and all that, and we have a basketball hoop in the front yard in the driveway, and we were going to play a little game with the kids, and we just started shooting around, and next thing you know it was a 4-on-4 game. It was Jack, who is two-and-a-half, Addy, who is six, Katie, who is four-and-a-half or five at the time, Allison who is 13 or 14 and she is a little basketball player, and Jim and me and Sarah, my wife. We're playing, and you can picture the kind of game it is, right? Allison happens to hit a couple jumpers and we're playing to seven, and we're up maybe 5-1. Next thing you know, Jim starts going over the top of Allison for rebounds, he's boxing her out 10 feet away from the basket. Next thing you know, it's 5-5 and Jim has made all the shots for his team of course. I'm like, you know, maybe Addy would like to touch the ball? Maybe Katie or Jack could dribble a little bit now and then? It goes 6-6 and a long rebound comes out the side, he goes and gets it. I see Allison happens to be over there, so I see him going to the basket, he's going to take Allison to the hole, you know, he's about 6'3", 235, so I'm going to go cut him off. I get him with my right arm bar across his chest and I'm trying to body check him into the pricker bushes behind the driveway, and he just powers his way to the basket, lays one over the top, a reverse layup off the board, and all he could talk about is how he won. He picks up Jack and says, 'Doesn't it feel great, Jack, to win? Doesn't it feel great to win?' An hour later we were crossing paths in the backyard to go get a soda or something, and he looks me right in the eye and he says, ‘Hey John, have you won anything yet?’”
• Bouye on his plans for his large signing bonus: “My dad brought me up to not really focus on material things, and I know what is important as far as wherever I get. I am going to take care of the AAU team that my dad runs and take care of my high school like I've always been doing. ... Growing up, my dad was not only dad to me, but a lot of kids, and a lot of kids who didn’t have dads. … I remember the fun times I’ve had there. Just to be able to help kids get that opportunity, flying to Vegas, L.A., going to the King James tournament, and knowing that there is more to life and more to the next level and helping them get closer to their dreams, if you can help them to do that, they will really appreciate it, and it will help motivate them to do more with their lives. That is one thing I am trying to get really involved with, and my dad has been involved with it for over 13 years. The A.J. Bouye Georgia Tornados.”
* * *
Tweets of the Week
Come on @TJLang70 we need you in Detroit! Help bring this city its first Super Bowl— Justin Abdelkader (@justinabss) March 11, 2017
The Lions granted the Red Winger’s wish, signing Lang—the former Packer and native of suburban Detroit—to a three-year deal Sunday.
I bet Adrian Peterson is having an enlightening and humbling day.— Sage Rosenfels (@SageRosenfels18) March 9, 2017
Jay Cutler released. City of Broad Shrugging Shoulders.— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) March 9, 2017
GM who reportedly is a football mind and players GM, gone. The franchise record breaking QB 2Xs over wants a trade. It's only March. https://t.co/kluPMzpykv— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 10, 2017
The NASCAR star is a big Washington fan, and he wasn’t pleased after a tumultuous opening day of free agency.
Had no clue Starbucks was this serious, these orders sounds like a play call— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) March 10, 2017
Here’s mine these days, Cardale: “Grande quad two pump caramel macchiato.”
Or, as Peyton Manning would say: “Grande quad two pump caramel macchiato OMAHA.”
* * *
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the NFL is so ridiculously overcovered that, while I was sitting down to begin this column Saturday night, there was a story online headlined: “SOURCES: Cowboys not expected to trade Romo.” A similar story in life would be: “SOURCES: Men not the same as women.” Lord, can we please stop the nonsense? When there’s news, report it. When there isn’t, let it be.
2. I think the Jets’ QB depth chart in 2017 should be: 1. Jay Cutler/Geno Smith, 3. Christian Hackenberg. Cutler should go to the Jets, and may the best man win the job for 2017. I honestly believe Cutler could play well. And he is smart enough to know he cannot be a turd in his next stop. What’s the gamble?
3. I think Cutler doesn’t have cooties, people. He’s not a criminal. He’s just not a warm and fuzzy type. It’s dumb to think he’s got less value than Nick Foles and Drew Stanton.
4. I think the best signing/re-do of the week was quarterback Tyrod Taylor staying in Buffalo. There was division in the organization about exactly how much Taylor is worth, and about exactly how good he is. But this is not the year to denude your team of the only quarterback available who has a chance to help you play .500 ball or better. (Seriously. Name one other quarterback on the street or available in the draft or who is not named Jimmy Garoppolo and thus who is actually gettable who is better than Taylor. There isn’t one.)
5. I think new Packer Martellus Bennett is a lucky man. This will be his 10th season playing in the NFL, and here are the primary quarterbacks who have thrown him the ball: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Tom Brady, and now Aaron Rodgers.
6. I think these are the key numbers for me in the Stephon Gilmore deal with New England: 5, 2, 4, 1. Those are the number of games per year Gilmore missed due to injury in Buffalo in the past four years: 52 games played, 12 games missed. Missing one of every five games is significant. Malcolm Butler, likely the odd man out in New England, does not have a track record remotely similar. He has played the last 40 New England games (including playoffs). The Patriots better hope they’ve got better trainers and medical people than Buffalo, seeing that they’re paying Gilmore $812,500 per game.
7. I think I have a quiz for you (answer below in number 10 of Ten Things): What do Luke Joeckel, Barkevious Mingo, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and D.J. Hayden have in common?
8. I think ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is pretty damn smart to have figured this out—and to have written it 76 days before the trade that knocked us all for a loop. In a Dec. 22 column on ESPN.com, Barnwell presaged the idea of the Texans dealing Osweiler to Cleveland and having Cleveland eat the contract in exchange for a pick or picks. Wrote Barnwell: “What the Texans could do, though, is trade Osweiler to a team who would be willing to pay his $16 million base salary. Houston would be left with a far more palatable $9 million in dead money on its 2017 cap. The problem, of course, is that nobody would want to pay Osweiler $16 million for the 2017 season unless there were dramatic incentives and no better options around. The Browns could fit both of those shoes. They've repeatedly shown how significantly they value draft picks, are willing to be patient to receive those picks and have no clear path to a starting quarterback … Hypothetically, the Browns could offer a seventh-round pick to the Texans in exchange for Osweiler, a 2017 third-round pick and a 2018 first-rounder. Cleveland might not want Osweiler enough to find that to be worth $16 million, and Houston might not be willing to trade away two draft picks to move on from an expensive mistake. But the logic of using short-term cap space to trade for useful draft assets is there.” Wow. Barnwell is one smart football mind.
9. I think this was an excellent and valuable take on the career longevity of an NFL player, by Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, on Miami safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I love the World Baseball Classic. That USA-Dominican Republic game had the drama of autumn.
b. Cool story of the week: The New Yorker, on how hard it is these days to actually reach your duly elected representatives in Washington. The greatest part of the story is that when Americans first began to call the House and Senate, in 1898, one woman was on the switchboard … and she worked that job for 47 years.
c. Fascinating radio story of the week: Why Lyme Disease could explode in the Northeast this year.
d. The Washington Post is doing some outstanding work. I subscribe electronically, and get a bunch of its newsletters, and every day I could spend a half hour reading this great American newspaper.
e. Keep fighting the fight, Marty Baron.
f. It’s not funny or even fiery, Bobby Knight. It’s downright sad, and depressing, to hear you want people dead.
g. On the other hand, the video of the dad/BBC interviewee and “kiddus interruptus” is downright hilarious, and wonderful.
h. The NBA is weird. There was a marquee game the other night—Golden State at San Antonio, the top two seeds in the Western Conference—and six key players were rested (coach’s decision). I don’t blame coaches for doing that. But if you’re going to have a marquee game and put it on national TV, shouldn’t Steph Curry play if he’s healthy?
i. The Big Ten had its men’s conference basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. The Atlantic Coast Conference had its men’s conference basketball tournament in Brooklyn.
j. Better, I suppose, than what almost happened a couple of years ago: UConn and Boise State being in the same conference.
k. Preet Bharara. American hero.
l. I don’t know Roy Williams’ political leanings, nor do I care. But his quote about Donald Trump the other day—“Our president Tweets out more bull---- than anyone I’ve ever seen”—was just perfect.
m. Like the president Tweeting “Obamacare is a complete and total disaster,” on the day he submitted his health-care plan, with the same dependent-coverage until 26 as the Affordable Care Act, the same insuring for pre-existing conditions as the Affordable Care Act, the same essential health benefits as the Affordable health care, the same maternity care benefits as the Affordable Care Act, and the same prohibitions on how much insurers would have to pay in a person’s lifetime as the Affordable Care Act. You kept five or six of the most important provisions, sir, and called it a complete disaster.
n. And the climate-change deniers, led by the EPA chief. Lord help us all.
o. Sometimes you watch what’s going on and just say, Can anyone stop this runaway train before it’s too late?
p. Coffeenerdness: Well, this week it’s tea, actually. I’ve started an afternoon Bigelow Green Tea with Pomegranate. Quite pleasant. Lightly caffeinated. Just right.
q. Beernerdness: How is Allagash Brewing (Portland, Maine) able to brew enough Allagash White for the world? The last three restaurants I’ve gone for dinner in New York City all had Allagash White on their beer menu. That includes a vegan place on the Upper West Side. Man, business in craft-beer land must be good.
r. Quiz answer: Joeckel, Mingo, Warmack, Fluker and Hayden were five of the top 12 picks in the 2013 draft (a historically bad draft, by the way), and all were either cut loose by their teams last week and/or signed by new teams.
s. Dion Jordan, Jonathan Cooper, Dee Milliner. All top 10 picks in 2013. All scattered to the wind less than four years later.
t. I could really use spring training right about now. Preferably a Chris Sale start.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Humperdinck once sang:
“Please release me. Let me go.”
Romo mouths the words.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.